People in abusive relationships face many obstacles in extricating themselves from their situations, no matter how unhappy they are.
“Mai", who wants to conceal her real name because of her work helping domestic violence survivors, left her abusive husband some years back, and now works with women dealing with domestic violence, knows this all too well.
She knows that abusers manipulate and devalue their spouses, and that years of this kind of psychological abuse takes its toll.
She knows that sometimes, cultural factors persuade women that they have a duty to stay with their husbands, no matter how badly they treat them. She knows that even if women are employed, often their husbands control all the money, leaving them dependent.
She also knows that many abused spouses fear that if they leave, even worse things will happen to them and their children, so they feel trapped.
"It's hard to understand a victim of domestic violence unless you are in their shoes," she said. "It's hard to understand why they stay in the relationship, but it's so easy to judge someone when something tragic happens."
The most dangerous time for abuses spouses is when they leave, as attested to by far too many murders of women leaving their husbands, said Julie Bornhoeft at WEAVE.
It’s possible to safely exit situations of domestic abuse, but it’s wise to proceed carefully, with help from organizations like WEAVE or My Sister’s House, that are devoted to helping women in these situations.
“Mai” said she felt cultural pressure to obey her husband, put up with abuse and stay with him whatever the cost, rather than bring shame to her family.
For a long time, she stayed because she didn’t want her children to grow up in a ‘broken home.’ Finally, however, she realized that allowing her children to remain in an unhealthy environment was much worse.
"The reason I left was the same reason I stayed -- for my children," she said. She didn't want to send the wrong message to her children.. "...Do I really want this to happen to my daughters? Do I really want my boys to grow up thinking this is allowed?"
She urged victims of domestic violence to seek out the help and programs that are there for them.
"I want every woman out there to know help is available to them," she said.
Most of all, however, Mai urged support and compassion for them. Domestic abuse has long tentacles, and breaking free is difficult. But it’s worth it.
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